FOUND OUR WAY
By Peggy and Randy Ford
PEPEEKEO (Peace Corps)
1. We took off from the Big Island. It was before Hilo had international flights. We had been living in a schoolhouse surrounded by sugarcane with well over two hundred people. It was sad to leave it behind but exciting to get on with the business at hand.
2. The days there were long, and our studies were so intense that energy was at a premium. We were living just outside a small community called Pepeekeo in an abandoned school that was made into makeshift dorms and classrooms. The school was in pretty good shape and not abandoned because it was falling down, but old classrooms don’t make the most ideal bedrooms.
3. The married couples (there were 14 couples out of 228 people) had private rooms, but the walls didn’t reach to the ceiling and were so thin that every squeak of the bed could be heard in the next room. Our doors were shower curtains, and some of the rooms were divided into two by shower curtains. That made it pretty rough on couples who had only been married less than a month. We were old-timers in the married world there. We had a big laugh when we put our trunk away in a cabinet, and it ended up in our neighbor’s cabinet.
4. We gave away the following possessions before entering the Peace Corps.
Books and more books
Coffee pot (electric)
Electric skillet (except for washing it, we liked it better than our plain frying pan)
Rug (brown, orange & red, about 2’x4’)
5. We ate much like we would in the Philippines, with lots of rich and goulash-type dishes. No good old American food such as bake potatoes, steaks and pork chops, and no sweets.
6. Language proficiency was a must, or that was what we were told. And we were beginning to know enough Tagalog to carry on simple conversations and to make appropriate remarks. We concentrated on verbs, which are very complex. We were given a standardized government language exam, which was divided into five levels of proficiency. By the end of training we were supposed to have reached S-2 level, which meant being able to hire an employee, give a brief autobiography, describe the geography of a familiar location, describe the purpose of the Peace Corps, as well as some of the more basic things we learned for S-1. How well did I do on the final exam? I almost made S-1. On the whole my wife was better than I was, and as for almost making it, it was apparently good enough.
7. We felt that nothing was more unjust than the process of deselecting. Midway through training bigwigs at the site and several people from Washington met and discussed each trainee in terms of his or her potential as a successful volunteer. At this time they predicted that four people would not make good volunteers and sent them home. Several others were warned that if they didn’t improve they would be deselected at the end of training. The process of deselecting caused a lot of hard feelings toward those who made the decisions. We were told that anybody who had a problem would be given a chance to work the problem out. Many of us felt that a couple of people weren’t given this chance.
8. Another factor that caused hard feelings was peer ratings. About 10 days before the process of deselecting began we were given a form to fill out. On the form we were to list the five volunteers that we would like most to be assigned with, the five we thought would make the most successful volunteers, the five we would least like to be assigned with, and the five we thought would be the least successful. We were told to put five in each slot – even if we didn’t want to. There was only one volunteer who Peggy (my wife) thought would be unsuccessful, but she forced herself to put down four others even though she didn’t think that they would necessarily be unsuccessful. One of the five she put down was almost deselected because several people put him down. She later thought that he would make an excellent volunteer – and there were others who agreed with her. Because of how the ratings were used most of the volunteers decided that when the final peer ratings came along they would not put down anybody unless they felt very strongly that someone would make an unsuccessful volunteer.
Peggy and Randy Ford